Socialist blogger,  Clay Claiborne,  carefully examines what happened on the morning of 4 April 2017 in Khan Sheikhoun that left more than eighty people dead from sarin poisoning. He will start with the people in Khan Sheikhoun, those that both witnessed and suffered the attack.   To see all the video links provided by Claiborne,  please click on the link below  to go to his blog directly:

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Sincerely yours, Theodore A. Postol

by Clay Claiborne

“Sincerely yours?” Really? Who signs a scientific paper about a chemical weapons attack “Sincerely yours?” The answer is Theodore A. Postol, Professor Emeritus of Science, Technology, and National Security Policy, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, when he is trying to use the mantles of science and position to pull the wool over our eyes. That is his final argument {“trust me”} in a long list we will shortly unraven from his Addendum to Dr. Theodore Postol’s Assessment of the White House Report on Syria Chemical Attack, and two other pieces of his repetitive Khan Sheikhoun trilogy, but before we get to that, we need to address what others had to say about whatever happened on the morning of 4 April 2017 in Khan Sheikhoun that left more than eighty people dead from sarin poisoning. We will start with the people in Khan Sheikhoun, those that both witnessed and suffered the attack.

This tweet, discovered by Bellingcat, was posted at 8:21am local time and refers to a video published at 7:59am local time. It was the first we know of to speak of a chemical attack:

Those who are convinced that this was a “false flag” operation carried out by Assad’s opposition on the ground rather than a chemical weapon dropped by one of Assad’s warplanes, really need to interrogate the posters of this tweet and video, because it they didn’t really see what they say they saw, they must have been in on the plot to have posted so early. Here is another one:

There were many, many reports from the ground, and many videos uploaded to YouTube, videos that could not be fabricated. Bellingcat has done an excellent report on this material.

By the day after the sarin attack, Syrian activists had already identified the pilot who dropped the ordinance, according to the English language Orient Net, a Syrian opposition media group, 5 April 2017:

Observatories operating in the provinces of Hama and Idlib revealed the identity of the commander of the aircraft that carried out the massacre on Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib countryside, which marked the second largest chemical attack in Syria after the August 2013 attacks on both eastern and western Ghoutas in Damascus.

Orient Net contacted a number of field, independent and even Syrian Civil Defense observatories in the countryside of Idlib and Hama, and all testimonies indicated that the Assad terrorist who dropped toxic gas-filled barrels on Khan Sheikhoun was colonel pilot, Muhammad Yousef Hasouri.

Colonel Hasouri is the commander of the Sukhoi 22 Squadron at al-Sha’yrat airport. His warplane carries Quds 1 banner. He hails from the villages of Talkalakh town from Homs countryside and currently resides with his family in the Assad-controlled al-Sakan al-Shababy neighborhood in Homs city.

At approximately 06:30 am on Tuesday (April 4), Colonel Hasouri took off with his Sukhoi 22 and dropped barrels filled with toxic chemicals on the town of Khan Sheikoun in Idlib countryside, killing more than 100 civilians as they slept and injuring more than 400.

The majority of those who fell victim to the toxic gas were children.

How could they possibly know who the pilot was with any degree of certainty? After all, they don’t have the sophisticated signals intelligence apparatus of a major state power. Orient Net explains that too:

It is worthy to mention that the walky-talkies and wireless connections have become an essential part of the lives of Syrians living in the liberated areas because of their effective role in reporting any sudden assault by Assad or Russian warplanes.

In addition, the Syrians use them to announce urgent appeals from hospitals or civil defense stations and report information on the location of the expected Assad or Russian targeting, which contributes to the safety measures and could possibly reduce the number of victims.

The observatories operating in the provinces of Hama and Idlib countryside were able to intercept the aviation talks with the operations room of the airport, decipher the code and determine the area the Assad warplane bombed.

They couldn’t know that it was sarin from Syrian government stocks at that point. That would require laboratory testing not available to them, so that would come later. They did know that some type of chemical weapon was dropped on them from a warplane they had spotted taking off and tracked. These arts are a matter of life and death to them. So to answer that question about how could they know who is responsible for the attack without an “independent investigation,” they know who controls the skies over Khan Sheikhoun.

The Other Side’s Story

Both the Russians and the Assad regime have had a consistent story about how civilians in Khan Sheikhoun died of chemical poisoning and they have been sticking to it. According to them, the Syrian air force bombed a jihadist chemical weapons storage facility in a civilian neighborhood and that is what caused the chemical deaths. It was the terrorist’s sarin. Although they have never once used it in battle, we are told to believe they had it stockpiled in a warehouse waiting to be released by a Syrian air force bomb.

On the day of the attack, 4 April 2017, Russia Today reported:

The Syrian Air Force has destroyed a warehouse in Idlib province where chemical weapons were being produced and stockpiled before being shipped to Iraq, Russia’s Defense Ministry spokesman said.

The strike, which was launched midday Tuesday, targeted a major rebel ammunition depot east of the town of Khan Sheikhoun, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov said in a statement.

The warehouse was used to both produce and store shells containing toxic gas, Konashenkov said. The shells were delivered to Iraq and repeatedly used there, he added, pointing out that both Iraq and international organizations have confirmed the use of such weapons by militants.

The next day Sputnik News repeated the same story:

MOSCOW (Sputnik) — Syrian aircraft have conducted an airstrike near the town of Khan Shaykhun in Syria’s Idlib province on the warehouse of terrorists’ ammunition and the mass of military equipment, where chemical weapons’ ammunition had also been stored and delivered to Iraq, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Wednesday.

According to Konashenkov, on Tuesday “from 11.30 to 12.30, local time, [8.30 to 9.30 GMT] Syrian aircraft conducted an airstrike in the eastern outskirts of Khan Shaykhun on a large warehouse of ammunition of terrorists and the mass of military equipment”.

Konashenkov said that from this warehouse, chemical weapons’ ammunition was delivered to Iraq by militants.

Konashenkov added that there were workshops for manufacturing bombs, stuffed with poisonous substances, on the territory of this warehouse.

On the day after that, 6 April 2017, the Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said in a press conference in Damascus @6:20:

“The first air raid conducted by the Syrian army was at 11:30 of that day and it attacked an army depot that belongs to al Nusra Front which contains chemical weapons. The evidence is that army depot is actually monitored by cctv and had that raid actually happened the damage would have reached a circle about with 1 km diameter. al Nusra Front and ISIS and other organizations continue to store chemical weapons in urban and residential areas.”

And in case anybody thought they were changing their story, they repeated it again more than a week after the attack. Sputnik News stated 12 April 2017:

MOSCOW (Sputnik) — Russia stands by its assertion that the Syrian forces struck a militant chemical weapons production facility on April 4, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Wednesday.

“According to our absolutely reliable information, the point at issue are Syrian Arab Republic air force’s Su-22 airstrikes on a site controlled by terrorists where chemicals were produced,” Ryabkov told reporters.

Trump’s Story

By now we all know United States President Donald Trump‘s story. He woke up one morning to pictures of dead Syrian children and was so moved by those images that he just had to take action. Apparently he wasn’t really aware of what has been going on in Syria for the last five years. What does he think a half million dead look like? Its hard to believe even Donald Trump could have avoided the ubiquitous pictures of the dead Syrian baby washed up on the beach, or of the little boy, his face covered in soot, sitting in the back of an ambulance in Aleppo. Apparently those images didn’t move him to relax his ban on Syrian refugees, but given the opportunity to be moved to take violent action, he’s all in.

To justify his decision to do what President Obama failed to do in 2013, the White House released a 4 page Declassified U.S. Report on Chemical Weapons Attack that generally agreed with observers on the ground, and added some info it claimed from its own classified sources. In spite of the source, it generally got the story right:

We assess that Damascus launched this chemical attack in response to an opposition offensive in northern Hamah Province that threatened key infrastructure. Senior regime military leaders were probably involved in planning the attack. Shaykhun at 6:55 AM local time on April 4. Our information indicates that the chemical agent was delivered by regime Su-22 fixed-wing aircraft our information indicates personnel historically associated with Syria’s chemical weapons program were at Shayrat Airfield in late March making preparations for an upcoming attack in Northern Syria, and they were present at the airfield on the day of the attack.

Commercial satellite imagery from April 6 showed impact craters around the hospital that are consistent with open source reports of a conventional attack on the hospital after the chemical attack. An open source video also shows where we believe the chemical munition landed—not on a facility filled with weapons, but in the middle of a street in the northern section of Khan Shaykhun. Commercial satellite imagery of that site from April 6, after the allegation, shows a crater in the road that corresponds to the open source video. observed munition remnants at the crater and staining around the impact point are consistent with a munition that functioned.

A significant body of pro-opposition social media reports indicate that the chemical attack began in Khan Shaykhun at 6:55 AM local time on April 4. Our information indicates that the chemical agent was delivered by regime Su-22 fixed-wing aircraft that took off from the regime-controlled Shayrat Airfield. These aircraft were in the vicinity of Khan Shaykhun approximately 20 minutes before reports of the chemical attack began and vacated the area shortly after the attack. Additionally, our information indicates personnel historically associated with Syria’s chemical weapons program were at Shayrat Airfield in late March making preparations for an upcoming attack in Northern Syria, and they were present at the airfield on the day of the attack.

Open source accounts posted following the attack reported that first responders also had difficulty breathing, and that some lost consciousness after coming into contact with the victims— consistent with secondary exposure to nerve agent.

It is this third-party White House Report that Postol takes on, not the original reporting by Syrians on the ground. He is making this effort to defend Assad and he knows that the White House makes for an easier target than the Syrians with first hand knowledge of the event. He completely ignores the Syrians and what they had to say about this event, on both sides, as we shall see.
To give himself even more of an advantage, he completely blindsides the WHR. As the New York Times pointed out:

Much of the White House report was devoted to rebutting Russia’s claim that the chemical attack last week, which it said killed as many as 100 people, including “many children,” was actually the result of a Syrian airstrike against a terrorist depot in the town of Khan Sheikhoun that contained chemical weapons.

In denying the Syrian opposition version of events, as retold by the White House, Postol is not supporting the Assad regime/Russian version of what happened either. He is putting forward a uniquely Postol third way that completely clears Assad of any responsibility for the slaughter.

This was necessary. In the first place, the original Russian/Syrian story is not a very good one because if they knowing blew up a stockpile of chemical weapons in a civilian area, they can hardly be absolved of any responsibility for the deaths that resulted. It is not enough to complain that terrorists “continue to store chemical weapons in urban and residential areas,” after you have released them with your bombs. Those that claim to be the legitimate government of Syria have a responsibility to do everything they can to protect civilians and not take advantage of a known pre-existing condition to kill them.

In the second place, once Guardian reporters were able to visit this so-called “terrorist warehouse,” it became clear that whole story was a fabrication. The warehouse had not been bomb recently. No weapons of any kind were being stored there. It was a food warehouse that was empty and had been abandoned since Assad bombed it six months ago.

Postol claims terrorist exploded a sarin pipebomb in the middle of the street without any help from the Syrian air force. He says they exploded a pipe filled with explosives on top of a pipe filled with sarin. He divines all of this from a couple of YouTube videos and satellite photos that he has determined are the ones the WHR is relying on. The WHR itself doesn’t include or reference any specific videos or photos. Although he ignores the Russian/Syrian story, he does contradict it which is to say that if you believe Postol is right and the White House is lying, you have to believe the Russians and the Assad regime are lying too.

In his initial report, Postol agrees that some type of chemical attack did take place:

The only undisputable facts stated in the White House report is the claim that a chemical attack using nerve agent occurred in Khan Shaykhun, Syria on that morning.

the [WH] report contains absolutely no evidence that would indicate who was the perpetrator of this atrocity.

Postol bases his findings from afar on a some commercial satellite photos and a couple of YouTube videos that he has determined must be the ones the WH is relying on.  In the third report, published by Truthdig, 14 April 2017, he says:

The evidence presented herein is from two selected videos that are part of a larger cache of videos that are available on YouTube. These videos were uploaded to YouTube by the SMART News Agency between April 5 and April 7.

That’s literally all he has to go on! However that doesn’t stop him from determining who the perpetrator is, as we shall see.
Much ado about nothing

For a M.I.T. grade scientist, Postol makes a lot of amateur mistakes in his striving to prove Assad’s innocence. Maybe he has let Syrian Sister turn his mind into mush. For example, he clearly doesn’t understand that sarin evaporates like water on a dry day because after noting:

The video evidence shows workers at the site roughly 30 hours after the alleged attack.

He then goes on to conclude that because they aren’t using what he would consider adequate protection, the whole scene must be a fabrication:

The honeycomb facemasks would provide absolutely no protection against either sarin vapors or sarin aerosols. The masks are only designed to filter small particles from the air. If sarin vapor was present, it would be inhaled without attenuation by these individuals. If sarin was present in an aerosol form, the aerosol would have condensed into the pores in the masks and evaporated into a highly lethal gas as the individuals inhaled through the masks. It is difficult to believe that health workers, if they were health workers, would be so ignorant of these basic facts.

What utter nonsense! I asked chemical weapons expert Dan Kaszeta to name a common substance with evaporation characteristic similar to sarin and he responded “Water. On a very dry day, next to zero humidity.” The reason why he stated that last part twice is because how rapidly water evaporates does vary greatly with the amount of water already in the air, but it is always a very dry day for sarin, at least for parts of the world not under Assad’s air force. For that reason alone, if sarin vapor was present in dangerous quantities, after 30 hours, in sunlight, outdoors, in a dry climate, it would be a physics miracle, and if sarin was present in an aerosol form, still floating over the road after 30 hours, it would be a good candidate for an investigation of the supernatural. That is what it would be. To use “ignorance of these basic facts,” to condemn health workers who are necessarily putting themselves at great risk without adequate equipment because they have been given no other choice is disgraceful.

To make it absolutely clear that my ridicule of Postol on this point is justified, I will cite a few more sources who, although they aren’t rocket scientists, are expert on the subject of chemical weapons. The first is a 1973 report from the US Army Edgewood Arsenal Chemical Laboratory. The US military designation for sarin is GB.

This is from page 19.

The above section follows pages of chemistry and other highly technical details, but we can see the bottom line above, and that is easy enough to understand, according the US Army Edgewood Arsenal “The times for 99% removal [decomposition] of GB [sarin] ranged from 2.5 to 24 hours.” 

Now can you see how shameful it is for a man like Theodore A. Postol to use his position and his M.I.T. credentials to denigrate courageous Syrian volunteers as frauds because sarin in the crater isn’t still killing them after 30 hours? Noam Chomsky, another M.I.T. notable was just on Democracy Now today defending Assad, and as proof for his position he cited what he called Postol’s “pretty devastating critique.” Both of these Assad apologists are tarnishing the name of the institution whose name they brandish about to give their words credibility they don’t deserve.

This table is from the same army report and it shows the decomposition time for sarin at different temperatures and environments. Note that this table predicts a 99.9% decomposition of sarin in soil of from 2.5 to 24 hrs. for all temperatures, however the shorter time would correlate to the higher temperature, and Postol’s own data shows that temperatures in excess of 25°C were reached in Khan Sheikhoun that day.

The chart below is from a 1 March 2013 report from the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI) titled Chemical warfare agents and their interactions with solid surfaces and designated FFI-rapport 2013/00574:

As you can see from the lower left corner, they would expect sarin to lose its toxicity very quickly, in under 30 minutes at the temperatures in Idlib that day. They define sarin as a non-persistent rather than a persistent CWA, the difference being  “a non-persistent one dissipates or loses ability to cause casualties after 10 to 15 minutes.” [p. 11] So Postol was entirely mistaken to expect them after 30 hours.

Another example of where he shows his ignorance of chemical weapons technology is when he recalls the critique he made years ago about the Obama White House report on the 21 August 2013 sarin massacre:

For example, the report claimed that the locations of the launch and impact of points of the artillery rockets were observed by US satellites. This claim was absolutely false and any competent intelligence analyst would have known that. The rockets could be seen from the Space-Based Infrared Satellite (SBIRS) but the satellite could absolutely not see the impact locations because the impact locations were not accompanied by explosions.

Actually, he is wrong. Now, I’m no rocket scientist, so it should be embarrassing to Postol that a layman such as myself have to reveal some basic facts to him, but most CW munitions use a bursting charge to disperse the CW agent and so the impact location would be accompanied by an explosion, albeit, a small one. Wikipedia talks about this in connection to some of the older US sarin rockets:

The warhead comprises about 15 pounds (6.8 kg) total, and consists of several components. The M34 and M36 Burster utilize composition B or tetrytol and total about 3 pounds (1.4 kg) of the total weapon weight. The agent, as stated, comprises about ten pounds of the weight with the rest lying in the casing and M417 fuze.[2]

I also asked Dan Kaszeta to comment on this Postol statement. He wrote back:

Two types of rocket were used in the 2013 Ghouta attacks, the so-called Volcano rocket (which he exclusively focuses on) and the smaller 140mm rocket.  The larger-payload Volcano rocket appears to have an incorrectly low explosive charge, just basically a pop to open the warhead and let liquid Sarin out. Not ideal.  There’s not much a thermal/IR satellite could see at impact on that from an explosion.  The 140mm rockets (firmly documented as their engine sections were recovered and fragments thereof recovered by OPCW) had seemingly an ideal charge to burster ratio. These would have been visible.

What he doesn’t state is that the majority of US imagery satellites work in the visual light spectrum and don’t rely on infrared.  Why he focuses on one type of satellite to the exclusion of others is beyond me.  I am by no means an imagery intelligence specialist and the true figures are deeply secret (hence the US reluctance to release satellite photos). However, it is widely reported in the public domain, and well backed up by basic optical calculations that US satellites easily have imagery resolution of about <redacted>.  This isn’t quite enough to read a newspaper, but it is good enough to see the impact point of a large Volcano rocket.

comment left on Bellingcat spoke of the false relief those small explosions can bring:

A nurse at the Rahma hospital (per the Guardian) reported hearing a dull explosion, which initially relieved her because she thought the bomb was a dud. I recall survivors of the 1988 Halabja attack reporting the same thing: that the explosions that delivered the chemical agent were not as loud as the conventional bombs that had been raining down on the city in the days before.

The same experiences were reported in East Ghouta after the 2013 sarin attack. After that attack, Postol used a bunch of fancy math to “prove” they were too far away for Assad’s army to hit them with rockets. The residents knew where the rockets were coming from because ones with conventional warheads had been raining down on them for months. That’s why the children were all sleeping in the basements where gas could get them first. For them, there was never any mystery about that where the rockets came from. But these sounded different when they landed. Almost like duds; Almost.

Pipe Dreams: What Postol thinks really happened

Postol’s most important conclusions are drawn from his examination of videos and satellite photos of what most agree is the crater made by the sarin bomb, remembering that the Russians and Syrians maintain they hit a warehouse not a street. Robert Barsocchini, wrote approvingly of Postol’s work:

Postol located the crater via satellite and examined it himself, concluding it reveals “absolutely no evidence that the crater was created by a munition designed to disperse sarin after it is dropped from an aircraft.”

In that first “Quick Turnaround Assessment,” Postol concludes from afar:

The data cited by the White House is more consistent with the possibility that the munition was placed on the ground rather than dropped from a plane. This conclusion assumes that the crater was not tampered with prior to the photographs. However, by referring to the munition in this crater, the White House is indicating that this is the erroneous source of the data it used to conclude that the munition came from a Syrian aircraft.

Analysis of the debris as shown in the photographs cited by the White House clearly indicates that the munition was almost certainly placed on the ground with an external detonating explosive on top of it that crushed the container so as to disperse the alleged load of sarin.

There are a couple of big problems with this. The first is that these particular YouTube videos have been chosen by Postol, the WHR includes no pictures or videos and references them only generally. The bigger problem with trying to draw any conclusions from these images is that there is no reasonable reason to believe this site remained undisturbed in the 30 hours since the crater was made. It is unguarded and unprotected in the middle of the road, without even a decent barrier to stop people from driving into it. A single red sign warns of the possible chemical danger and we can see from the way that is positioned in different images that change has occurred. Postol uses the more sinister phrase “tampered with,” but I see no reason to go all negative. In spite of the attack, people still got to get on with their lives, still got to use this road. We can see vehicles driving by in the two videos Postol has submitted for our examination. For all we know, the real rocket parts, if there were any in the crater, were dragged off hours ago, and the pipe that Postol is fretting about fell out the back of a passing truck.

But maybe there is a more likely explanation. Here is a frame from a YouTube video uploaded the day after the 21 August 2013 sarin attack.  It shows the rocket still in the crater:

Now you can see that it is a rocket in the crater, right? Notice how the part actually in the crater resembles the remnants left in the crater at Khan Sheikhoun. I suspect that what we see in the crater in Postol’s picture below is not the remains of a terrorist sarin filled pipe-bomb that was detonated with explosive on top, as he claims. I think it’s the remains of a missile much like the one in the Erbin City picture above, and deformed by much the same forces, except in Khan Sheikhoun it hit a paved street so the top of the missile got completely sheared off, and since it was in the way of traffic, “tampered with.”

Now, what does the WHR actually say about this crater? From the White House Syria Chemical Weapons Report we have:

An open source video also shows where we believe the chemical munition landed—not on a facility filled with weapons, but in the middle of a street in the northern section of Khan Shaykhun. Commercial satellite imagery of that site from April 6, after the allegation, shows a crater in the road that corresponds to the open source video.

In addition, observed munition remnants at the crater and staining around the impact point are consistent with a munition that functioned, but structures nearest to the impact crater did not sustain damage that would be expected from a conventional high-explosive payload. Instead, the damage is more consistent with a chemical munition.

That is it! That is all the WHR has to say on the question of the crater. Basically it says the existence of the crater indicates an explosion did happen, just not a very big one, like you would expect with a chemical weapon. They make no claim that would require that the site remained undisturbed since the explosion, nor do they make any claim that it has been undisturbed.

That doesn’t stop Postol from insisting that the WHR claims the site was not “tampered with”:

the assumption in the WHR that the site of the alleged sarin release had not been tampered with was totally unjustified

Where is he getting this? He also says the same thing in the second version:

the assumption in the WHR that there was no tampering with the alleged site of the sarin release is not correct. This egregious error raises questions about every other claim in the WHR.

Clearly, he is arguing that the site was “tampered with,” and as I have said, it would be hard to believe it remained undisturbed for 30 hours, and yet his whole thesis about what happened is based on looking at photographs and assuming they accurately represent the original undisturbed site. He even says in that first report:

The data cited by the White House is more consistent with the possibility that the munition was placed on the ground rather than dropped from a plane. This conclusion assumes that the crater was not tampered with prior to the photographs.

Incredible! If that’s his case, then he has no case. That’s not rocket science. That’s simple logic.

What he really thinks may be revealed by a poorly worded statement near the end of his Truthdig piece. After he recounts the Obama White House report that Postol thinks incorrectly blamed Assad for the big 2013 sarin attack, he says:

It is now obvious that this incident produced by the WHR, while just as serious in terms of the dangers it created for U.S. security, was a clumsy and outright fabrication of a report that was certainly not supported by the intelligence community.

Is he saying the report was fabricated by the White House or is he saying the incident was fabricated by the White House? It is hard to know what he really thinks.

Syria is the Paris Commune of the 21st Century